Read a name, change a life

Jeff vonKaenel

There are 62,000 California kids in foster care. Thirty-four thousand of these children are waiting for a permanent family. Each year, all of these children’s names and ages are read one by one at the state capital during National Adoption Month in November. Almost every year since 2008, I have been one of the many parents, foster care activists, elected officials, adoption agency employees and others who have participated in Calling Out of Names.

It is pretty simple. You go up to the podium, say your name, and a few words about why you are there. And then, you start reading a list of names with ages. Barbara, age 5. Tania, age 14. Jesus, age 13, … After a while, one of the event volunteers holds up a little sign telling you that your turn is over. You make a mark in the book after the last name that you read so the next person knows where to begin.

As you read the names, you know that there’s a kid attached to each name. A kid with hands, a heart, teeth that need brushing every day or maybe teeth still waiting to come in. A kid with dreams, fears, anger and love. The Calling Out of Names feels like saying a prayer. You hope that it will change the world but you know it has changed you.

You also say something about yourself. I mentioned that one division of our company, N&R Publications, has produced numerous eight-page publications for adoption agencies and California county Child Protective Services agencies. We have told many stories of kids in foster care. Many were happy stories, where things worked out: For the kids, for the biological parents and for the foster parents. It does happen, and often.

I want to say something to the 60,000 kids on the list. The people at the agencies and the people at the state legislature who are working on these issues care for you. They celebrate your victories. Your setbacks make them sad. They want the best for you, even when what is the best is not always clear.

The state has been changing foster care in California, toward using more resource families. To be a resource family, you must be over 18, have an extra bedroom, pass a background check, have enough income and, of course, have a strong beating loving heart. Resource families temporarily take care of kids when things are not going well at home. This change is due to a recognition that the vast majority of kids who go into foster care eventually go back to their parents or to a family member. So temporary resource families can help a kid through a very tough time. And what is particularly good for kids in foster care is that they are no longer in the middle between their biological parents and their foster parents. Everybody is on the same side, providing support for the child while the parents work on their issues.

The state has also made it easier for people to become resource families by increasing the amount of money given each month, by giving more training and by providing more mental and physical health care services. This is a great program, that needs some great people. Like readers of SN&R. Every name that was called out was attached to a kid who could change your life while you change theirs.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.